In October the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee published the report of its inquiry "Anti-semitism in the United Kingdom”. As a former specialist adviser to a select committee, I was dismayed when reading it. This impelled me to write a critique which has been sent to the Chairs of the Home Affairs Committee and Liaison Committee which has overall responsibility for select committees. They are asked to address the serious concerns and recommendations stated at the beginning of the Critique supported by the detail it subsequently lays out. A recommendation is also made to the Labour Party. In summary -
I came to this report as a former specialist adviser to the then House of Commons Social Services Committee. It saddens me to find a report which so signally fails to live up to the standards set by select committees over the years. Most regrettably, my conclusion is that this Report is a partisan party political polemic which should not have been agreed and made public by a House of Commons select committee. It fails to meet the basic standards required of select committees as to their inquiries and reports. This is particularly distressing on so important and contentious a matter as antisemitism in our country.
The Report purports to be the result of an inquiry into “Antisemitism in the United Kingdom”. It is no such thing. The Inquiry has no terms of reference: as a result, it is ill-defined from the outset. Its evidence base is partial and excludes a swathe of evidence sources that would have been essential to such an inquiry. It is unbalanced in the coverage it gives to political discourse as against other aspects of antisemitism in the United Kingdom – and grossly imbalanced within the topic of political discourse in the entirely disproportionate attention it gives to the Labour Party and personally to its Leader.
The Committee unjustifiably dismisses the Shami Chakrabarti Report primarily on the basis of innuendo without taking proper account of the reputation for integrity of its Chair and Vice Chairs – and by assessing the Report against a judicial inquiry expectation which it could not and was not expected to meet. The report’s treatment of the Leader of the Labour Party is biased and unfair. The Report also includes severe criticism of named or otherwise identifiable individuals without, it seems, hearing their side of the story thus denying them their fundamental right of reply.
The Report gives the clear impression of bias on all these counts – including, most regrettably, the strong impression of the Committee having been captured by the party politics within and without the Labour Party following the Parliamentary Labour Party’s majority vote of no confidence in the Party Leader and the leadership election campaign that ensued. By falling so far short of the standards required, the Committee’s Report does disservice to the honourable cause of combating antisemitism in the United Kingdom: and fuels the fires of misunderstanding and ill feeling which dog its discussion rather than fostering the understanding and constructive debate the public has every right to expect of its elected representatives.
If I was inclined to borrow an expression from the Committee’s Interim Chair when interviewed on radio and television on the morning of Sunday 16 October 2016, I would say that the Committee’s Report is not worth the paper it is written on. Such worth as is within it is set at nothing by that which is either not worthwhile or worse.
The House of Commons Home affairs Committee should withdraw this Report and undertake a properly impartial, objective and sufficiently evidenced inquiry into antisemitism in the United Kingdom. Individuals and organizations should not be named or otherwise made identifiable in the report of this and other inquiries undertaken by the Committee without due process and proper verification of evidence.
The House of Commons Liaison Committee should examine the adequacy of the arrangements select committees of the House of Commons have in place to assure their inquiries and reports to ensure they achieve basic standards of impartiality, objectivity and adequacy of evidence – including strict adherence to the rule of no party politics.
The Labour Party should consider the comments made in this Critique in relation to: a definition of antisemitism and the areas of outright disagreement as to what falls within it in the assessment of allegations; and accountability. [My paragraphs 7.17, 7.20, 7.22, 7.23 & 7.26]
A full copy of the Critique can be found here.
is a member of the Labour Party living in Cambridge. He is a former Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Social Services Committee and a former local authority director of social services and chief executive.